Cochinita Pibil (Achiote Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder Wrapped in Banana Leaf)

© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

This post is for Adriana Rivera, our friend from Mexico Distrito Federal. When she came to visit this past February she brought with her some tasty goodies, one of which was achiote paste. Inasmuch as I had the achiote paste I had to make cochinata pibil. So, I did and it was really good. :) Thanks, Adriana!!

Last night after we ate dinner I sat down and posted a photo of the meal on Facebook. One of my friends commented “Not sure what it is… But it looks delicious.” So, that, my friends, is the starting point of today’s post. What is cochinita pibil?

Cochinta simply means little female pig. It typically refers to a suckling female pig. Pibil means buried but it refers to a Mayan technique of steaming meat in a “pib,” Mayan for pit. Hence, cochinita pibil is a female suckling pig buried in a pit and steamed. Translating the name of the dish, however, doesn’t really answer the question of what is it now does it? There must be more to the dish than merely steaming a small female pig in a pit, right? To find the answer to the question, you need look no further than Robert Rodriguez’s movie “Once Upon a Time in Mexico” starring Antonio Banderas and Johnny Depp. At the beginning of the movie, Depp hands Banderas his plate and tells him

“El, you really must try this because it’s, ah, puerco pibil. It’s a slow-roasted pork. Nothing fancy, just happens to be my favorite. And I order it with a tequila and lime in every dive I go to in this country, and honestly, that is the best it’s ever been, anywhere. In fact, it’s too good. It is so good that when I’m finished with it, I’ll pay my check, walk straight into the kitchen and shoot the cook.”

Of course, true to his word, as the scene progresses, Depp does indeed pay his check, go into the kitchen and kill the cook. :o I’m sure glad I wasn’t the cook. :D

Cochinita pibil and Depp’s puerco pibil are essentially the same thing. The dish is of Mayan origin from the Yucatan Peninsula. Traditionally, it is a slow roasted suckling pig that is marinated in citrus juice and achiote paste. The meat is wrapped in banana leaf, buried in a pib with a fire at the bottom and then very slowly roasted. Because of the large quantity of meat from a whole suckling pig, the expense and difficulty in obtaining one, and the need for a pib, modern recipes now call for pork shoulder (Boston butt) or another cut of pork, instead. Also, instead of the pib, dutch ovens or slow cookers are now used. The high acid content of the citrus marinade and the process of slow cooking tenderizes the meat, allowing otherwise tough pieces of meat (pork shoulder) to be used. The meat will be ridiculously tender and the sauce produced by the marinade and roasted pork juices is simply surreal.

Now, the traditional Yucatecan recipes always use Seville or bitter orange juice for marinating. If bitter oranges are not available, sweet orange juice combined with lemons, limes or vinegar may be used as a substitute. Alternatively, as in this recipe, you can simply use lime juice. The other critical ingredient in all cochinita pibil recipes is achiote paste made from annatto seeds. The achiote paste not only provides flavor but it gives the meat its characteristic red color. You can make your own achiote paste if you so desire. Diana Kennedy has a beautiful recipe for achiote paste in her book “The Cuisines of Mexico.” If you don’t want to put the effort into pounding the softened annatto seeds, herbs and spices into a paste with in a molcajete, you can purchase Achiote paste at most Mexican food stores or online. This recipe used El Yucateco brand.

As Johnny Depp explained, there is nothing fancy about this dish. In fact, it is remarkably simple and something you can start in the morning before you go to work and feed your family when you come home. Inasmuch as I have a mental block against using slow cookers, I roasted our meal in my dutch oven. However, you want to do this dish is up to you. Nonetheless, this dish is proof positive that the simple things in life are sometimes the best. You can even have to have a tequila and lime with it if you want. Just don’t shoot the cook when you’re done. ;) Here is what we did.

Ingredients

  • 2.5 – 3 lb boneless pork shoulder
  • 1/2 package (3.5 oz) achiote paste
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • salt
  • 1 large white onion, sliced – 1/4 inch slices
  • banana leaf
© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

Instruction

Add 2 teaspoons of salt to a small mixing bowl

© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

Crumble achiote paste into bowl with salt

© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

Now, add the lime juice

© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

Using a spoon, smash the achiote paste with the back of the spoon and stir the mixture until the achiote paste has dissolved and you have a nice, smooth, somewhat thick marinade.

© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

Take the banana leaf and cut 2 sections roughly 18 inches, each. Line an 8 qt dutch oven with the leaves whereby they form a cross. If you are using a slow cooker do the same. Then add the meat to the dutch oven/slow cooker.

© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

Now, pour the achiote marinade over the top and around the pork shoulder.

© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

Arrange onions over and around the pork.

© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

Fold banana leaves over the pork, cover and refrigerate overnight (or at least 6 hours).

© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

The next day, remove from refrigerator, pour 1/2 cup of water around the pork, cover and place in a 275 F oven. Alternatively, place in a slow cooker set on high.

© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

Roast for 3-1/2 or 4 hours until tender. If using a slow cooker, cook for roughly 5 – 6 hours until tender. It will hold for several hours on the slow cooker’s keep warm function if you have a programmable slow cooker. Remove from oven/slow cooker, carefully transfer the pork to a serving plate (it will break up easily) and arrange onions around the pork.

© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

Remove excess fat from remaining liquid in the pan. If you have more than 2 cups of liquid in the pan/slow cooker pour the liquid into a saucepan and reduce to 2 cups to make a intensely flavored sauce. You are more likely to have more than 2 cups if you use a slow cooker as opposed to the dutch oven method. Pour the sauce over the pork.

© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

Add cilantro as garnish and serve with plenty of tortillas, lime pickled red onions and a spicy salsa.

© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

Enjoy!

© 2013 REMCooks.com

© 2013 REMCooks.com

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25 thoughts on “Cochinita Pibil (Achiote Slow Roasted Pork Shoulder Wrapped in Banana Leaf)

  1. WOW! That looks crazy good! Good enough to shoot the cook I must say! (wink wink). Great back story for this. By the way, I added you to my Blogroll! Keep up the fantastic recipes, as they are so inspiring to me. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Kathryn, for the very nice compliment and listing me on your blogroll. :) This story was a lot of fun to write. I had completely forgotten about the movie and it’s relation to cochinita pibil until our eldest son (Quickstep) came over for dinner and reminded me. So, he is the one who gets credit for the story. He also absolutely loved this dish but he adores Mexican food.

  2. Fabulous. I never knew you could actually buy achiote paste! How do you get the banana leaves? There are some Hawaiian dishes I’ve always wanted to try that require the leaves…

    • Achiote paste is available here in the Mexican markets and sometimes in the general Supermarkets. I bought the banana leaves at Kroger – 1 lb for $1.79. It comes in 1 or 2 very long sheets, frozen, so you have to cut it to your desired length. Typically, we find banana leaves at the Asian markets and I was rather surprised when I found them at Kroger. Kroger is pretty good about special ordering things if they don’t have them in stock as long as it is available to them. There are all sorts of tropical dishes you can make with them. They are fun and make a lovely presentation similar to “en papillote.”

      • We don’t have Kroger, and I won’t be finding banana leaves at grocery stores where I live. I was hoping you had an online source. As for achiote paste, I just make my own – i always have a staple of anatto seeds around.

        • Check one of your local markets and see if they can get them for you. I realize Enid is a little rural but I’m sure a grocer would try to help you. They are readily available, frozen. As for making my own achiote paste, I hate pounding things in a molcajete and am comfortably lazy at this point in my life. ;)

  3. I’m familiar with achiote powder but have not seen paste. Looks like a terrific pork dish. You might want to keep an eye out for Depp…just in case. :)

    • I never know how I miss some of the comments but I do. Sorry, for not replying Stefan. Achiote paste is readily available online. Otherwise, buy some annatto seeds and make your own. :) This is a very flavorful dish well worth the effort of making your own achiote paste, if needed.

  4. this is one of my favorite Mexican dishes and I always order it if it is offered at the restaurant. I was thinking about making it, but I haven’t seen banana leaves around. I should probably check one of the Vietnamese shops. I hope I won’t have to come to TX for some :-) oh, and I’ll make sure not to cook it for Johnny Depp ;-)

  5. Pingback: Chicken Thighs Smothered in Achiote & Garlic Salsa Paste Wrapped in Swiss Chard over Spanish Rice | REMCooks

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